I'm kind of exhausted on traveling this summer, but Catherine wanted to go to Hersheypark, and I had never been there, so I agreed. The truth is that I didn't have any real strong expectations, but I was absolutely blown away by the park.
We arrived in Harrisburg the night before, and stayed there because it's a lot less expensive than staying in Hershey. We stopped the next morning at a Giant grocery store to buy discount tickets, off $10 each. They also gave coupons for a free souvenir "Xtreme Cup," a $6.29 value. Not bad! I was surprised to see that regular price was $44, more than Cedar Point even.
As soon as we approached the property, I was impressed by the level of development with the arena and excellent traffic management. I was also impressed with the relationship that Hershey Entertainment has with Hershey the chocolate company. Nice arrangement to have the chocolate company build a free dark ride near the gate.
The entrance area reminds me a lot of Busch Gardens Will... er... Europe. It's very clean, very lush, and really quite beautiful without being cheesy. We entered the park just before 10, so beyond that they had not yet let people into the bulk of the park.
Going with the flow of traffic, we got as far as the location for the Reese's Xtreme Cup Challenge, and seeing a short line, jumped right on. The theme is still pretty silly, and not really interesting. However, it's another one of those shoot-the-target dark rides, and those are kind of fun. I scored half the points in my car, and we still lost because the other car had four teenage boys. Not fair! We got little chocolate bars on the way out.
There were a lot of really good smells on the midway from there out. I found most of the food offerings to be kind of average, and a little on the expensive side, but I also didn't get to try some of the more interesting places. Perhaps next time.
We went to Storm Runner next expecting a crazy line, but there was no line. We were in the station in less than 15 minutes, and at that point decided we might as well wait for the front. It's funny how brave Cath has become. She wouldn't even get on a ride like this when I met her a few months ago.
The ride is really quite striking all the way around, and I'm amazed the way it was squeezed in (as is the case with many of the rides in the park). The station is nice and very bright inside. The lighting on the top hat at night is very cool. It appears the supports are filled with some kind of dampening material too, because it's very quiet. The dispatch seems a little inefficient. The track switch moves as soon as the train clears the top hat, but the next train just sits. I don't get that at all. Unless the hydraulic motor is using that time to reset, it seems like they could boost capacity a little.
While short, this is still the best use of Intamin's hydraulic launch that I've seen, and I think it beats the pants out of Dragster. I absolutely loved it! Absolutely great fun from start to finish. This is really one of my favorite steel coasters, certainly among the top ten if I actually ranked them.
We did the Boomerang next. Credit. Move on.
Next up, Wildcat. I've been anxious to get on more GCI coasters, because I love Roar at SFA, and Gwazi at least shows promise at Busch Tampa (if they'd actually run the damn thing and maintain it). Wildcat exceeded my expectations by a lot. It was a little rough on the pullout from the first drop, but generally speaking it was full of surprises and just doesn't let up. Well done! We had a nice conversation with a woman in line about PKI. She had not heard that Sonny was down, but the kids love Sponge Bob, so we told them they'd love Nick Universe.
Working our way around the midway, which is beautifully themed with the grand coaster stations and county fair style food trailers, we hopped on the Wild Mouse. Pretty standard stuff, but we got our best ride later. I love mouse rides. I couldn't figure out, however, why they were not pairing couples and sending cars around with only people in them. We only waited ten minutes, but still, why keep people waiting at all if you don't have to?
Lightning Racer is a stunning looking ride with a grand station. I was excited to finally get on a coaster with Millennium Flyer trains, and they really are quite beautiful when you see them up close. As for the ride? Awesome! Those trains track so well. The dueling aspect of the ride sounds like a gimmick, but I don't think they had to make any substantial compromises at all in the design of the coaster. It has amazing drops, surprising laterals, great air time... really the whole package. So far, Hershey was impressing me on every turn! Really great crew on this ride as well. We did one lap on each side.
After grabbing some lunch from the fairly mediocre food court area near Storm Runner, we jumped on the monorail. It's a neat ride, but the views are frequently obstructed by buildings or other non-interesting things. From there we headed to the older section of the park, and it was getting crowded. Sooperdooperlooper was closed, with no sign of activity, and that was a serious bummer. We took a spin on the kissing tower, and then decided to take a break around 3 p.m. We ran up to Allentown to visit Cath's brother and friends. No, we didn't stop at Dorney.
We returned to the park at 7:30 p.m., and an afternoon shower chased away a fair amount of people. Cars were parked well out beyond the arena, so clearly they were having a good day.
We picked up where we left off, and got in line for the Comet. I was really impressed that this thing still operates with friction brakes, and the computer actually parks the train with them. Neat. What a fantastic ride this is too. Not an extreme air time machine, but really great fun, and it's maintained very well. The topography kind of hides just how big the first couple of drops are.
We climbed the hill up to the flume. The boats were packed in and they were running at high capacity. Really nice station, and the ride itself looked like it was in fantastic shape. It really made me nostalgic for White Water Landing, with its double chutes. Loved it.
Next was Great Bear, and my one negative on the trip, though I'll get to that in a moment. From the ground, I was really struck by the speed throughout the entire course, and wondered how it would feel on the ride itself. It even comes flying into the brake run pretty fast! I also wondered if the turn off the lift would interfere with the general pace of the ride, but it's one of the neatest things I've seen on an inverter in a long time.
Great Bear is fast and relentless, and pushes you harder than most of the B&M inverts that I've been on. It's very smooth, and while it has the standard set of elements, they're all taken very quickly and over very cool terrain. I'm not sure why you don't hear more about this ride. I really dig it!
Now about the negatives here. The ride itself is outstanding. The crew is really bad. First off, the kid measuring height let collar-flip-Fitch boy on the rear dispatch talk him into allowing a little girl ride who was too short. Was she in any real danger? Probably not, but the point of measuring is so that you don't have anything to interpret or make a decision on. The kid is in or out, and that's that. Collar-flip boy was also slow, and showed no signs of hustle at all. I've never seen so many trains stack on a coaster with only two trains. Dispatches were at least two minutes apart, and I doubt the ride was getting even close to a thousand people per hour. This was the longest line we waited in for no other reason than a crappy crew and really bad protocol.
Generally speaking, the entire loading procedure is inefficient. Start by getting those lazy asses off stools. They don't need to sit for the seven seconds between trains. Let's not put drinks on controls either. Going back and forth through the rows takes too long while checking restraints. You've got four people, have them each do the two seats on their side in each of their four rows. Put a window around the lead controls so the three employees standing around can't distract the operator. Someone needs to visually check restraints as the train leaves. Ready signals should be arms out with a thumb, not an OK signal held close to the chest. And for God's sake, get the operators where they can see each other. They're going to dispatch with someone in the train one of these days.
We snagged our final new coaster on the mine train, and all things considered, it's not a bad ride at all. The helix goes on forever! It's not Adventure Express, but still lots of fun. Strange retrofit with stiff ratcheting lap bars.
With almost an hour to spare, we wanted to roll back to Lightning Racer. It was drizzling a little, so I suspected it would be faster. Wow does it look amazing at night. That whole part of the park is beautiful, and I hope the new water stuff for next year doesn't ruin that look. The LR crew did a quick job of cleaning up a protein spill, and we were off once more. Another fantastic ride! It was substantially faster I think.
The fair trailer food stands lured us in with their fried stuff, and we snacked on a funnel cake and fries. Good thing the park was hilly to help with the calories.
As we headed out, the rain started to pick up a little. I noticed empty cars running on the mouse at five to 11, so we jumped on it. With fewer cars on, it appears to run with the blocks wide open. It was the single most intense mouse ride I've ever had, and Catherine really freaked out. Good times!
By the time we got up the flyers, the park was still open, so I jumped on. I was disappointed that they really don't snap at all. I got the structure to make a little noise, but I think the cables were too short or something. You just couldn't get a good stall. I tried. :)
So overall, Great Bear crew and operations aside, I was absolutely enamored with the park. Lightning Racer and Storm Runner are absolutely amazing rides. I really look forward to going back again.
Sunday morning, we ran out to Chocolate World to do the brainwashing, er, I mean, dark ride. Didn't know that chocolate was so complicated to make. I actually managed to get through without buying anything. Catherine wasn't so lucky.
Hersheypark ranks high on my list of places to return to.